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Yquem 1967 - 1990

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Bill Spohn

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Yquem 1967 - 1990

by Bill Spohn » Thu Nov 08, 2018 1:38 pm

Fire up the wayback machine Mr. Peabody - I came across these notes from a tasting in May of 1998 and thought they might be of some interest. I wonder how those wines are doing today, a couple of decades later. probably pretty well, for the most part.

This was probably the most challenging event I ever attended - to create a menu for a whole Yquem vertical. I lift my glass to Albert Givton, who is no longer with us!

I had the great good fortune to participate in a once-in-a-lifetime (for those
of us with real-life means and priorities) tasting of Ch. d'Yquem organized and
arranged by Albert Givton in Vancouver, at the Four Seasons Hotel.

In years past, the cuisine at hotel restaurants was decidedly inferior to the
smaller restaurants, which were often owned and operated by people with driving
passions for excellence in food preparation (sadly, often without the business
sense to match).

This situation began to change about 10 or 12 years ago, when forward thinking
hotels began to seek out and attempt to retain chefs whose training and
inspiration did not begin and end with an institutional cooking course in some
community college. Now, in this part of the world at least, many hotel kitchens
vie with the small establishments for top honours.

When Albert began to plan this event, he found himself faced with the biggest
challenge in his decades of crafting meals in which wine and food would combine
to sing together, as opposed to screeching at each other. He was fortunate to
find a chef, Douglas Anderson, at the Four Seasons, that not only had the
training and experience to aid in the task, but who also had personal
experience with sauternes and with Yquem in particular. While I would not
normally include food notes, except at the end of my tasting notes, for fear of
boring those to whom the wine is the primary or perhaps only priority, in this
case the combinations were so fascinating that I have included notes on both
food and wines together.

One caveat - this dinner encompassed thirteen vintages of Yquem, a champagne,
and a Burgundy, and the notes are fairly lengthy.

We started with a non-vintage Louis Roederer Brut Premier which was served with
4 different exquisite canapes featuring such things as seared tuna, foie gras
on tiny half figs, and rare bits of thinly sliced tenderloin garnished with
slivers of orange rind, all wonderfully done and an indication of what was to
come.

The first flight of wines consisted of the following:

-- 1987 - a medium botrytis nose with some brightness to it (reminiscent of the
90 Suduiraut, unless memory fails me), with a little coconut and banana. It was
smooth and long on the palate, and quite well balanced, a signature of the
Chateau, as it was to become evident when we had tasted more of them. It went
particularly well with the food.

-- 1980 - A lousy year for red Bordeaux. A very good year for sauternes. A very
full smooth feel followed a very nice honey and lychee nose. On the palate,
very full, smooth and a long finish. It was not as sweet as the 87, but had
less acidity as well, and so showed as richer. The fact that it was not bottled
until 1984 and had longer in wood doubtless was a factor in the development of
this softer wine. It also complemented the food admirably.
These wines were served with a terrine of foie gras with a crisp lemon cracker
and a glaze of white grape emulsion. Particularly wonderful given that I so
rarely get good foie gras here (probably a good thing, I suppose, though I
noted that one of my table-mates, a cardio-vascular surgeon, did not fail to
finish his portion).

The next course was accompanied by:

-- 1990 - A somewhat hot vanillin nose with the elements not yet blended
together. Simple now, but nicely balanced, with some banana in the long
aftertaste. This wine may become great but it is much too soon to tell. I have
seen people drinking this in restaurants, likely on expense accounts or trying
to impress each other. What a waste. While I would certainly assist in such
infanticide if invited, the only thing that the host would impress me with by
offering such a wine would be his lack of expertise (though I would not think
to voice such an opinion, at least so long as the Yquem was flowing).

-- 1989 - This showed a lovely honey and pineapple nose, and was bursting with
coconut and mango flavours on palate, balanced and exceptionally long. A big
wine with high alcohol. Favourite of flight for many.

-- 1988 - Less concentrated, but more botrytis, with a smoky orange nose and
higher acidity than either the 90 or 89, my favourite right now for drinking,
though given time I felt that the 89 would surpass it (what the 90 will do is
something that I cannot guess).

The food for these wines was:

Nova Scotia lobster and celery root smoked cod brandade with Granny Smith
apple, all stuffed into a cylinder of pastry, served on a lemon nage.

The next flight consisted of:

-- 1986 - Fascinating multi-faceted nose with apricot, nuts, and pineapple,
excellent balance and astounding length. A fantastic wine that did not go well
with the food served with it.

-- 1982 -Not generally a great vintage for sauternes, with the exception of
Yquem (and Suduiraut, which oddly enough failed to make a great wine the
following vintage, 1983, which was for other sauternes, a much better vintage).
From a tough year, this wine showed acidity and greenness on the nose, the only
one to do this, as a result of the higher than normal blend of sauvignon blanc
(typical blend is about 80% semillon, 20% s.b.). Not much botrytis, but some
nice apricot scents and flavours with acidity at the end. It went much better
with the food than the 86 did.

The food for these wines was:

Timbale of foraged mushrooms (in this case, oyster and chanterelle mushrooms)
in a shallot reduction, served with sauternes ver jus, and a small bundle of
green beans which amazingly enough went quite well with the 82.

The next flight:

-- 1976 - Spicy melon nose, well developed wine with good acidity and length
and more intensity than later wines. It was mentioned by those that know, that
after the decade of the 70s, the wines do not show the same intensity of
flavour, nor will they likely last as long, an understandable trend in
winemaking, given the length of time most of these wines require to reach
maturity and the notorious impatience of people these days.

-- 1971 - Initially a bit reticent in the nose, it came out a little earthy,
backed by botrytis and fruit, and was rich and almost figgy on palate, crisp
and long. Not according to those with experience, the best of bottles, being a
little darker than normal and not showing as well as it might.

-- 1970 - A touch oxidized, dark and with much more ullage than the other
bottles, this showed an earthy mushroomy nose, reasonable length and
concentration and went well with the food. By chance, I have had this wine
twice in the last year, and thus can confirm that has shown much better. I
append my notes from the last time I had it, in late June -

"1970 Ch. D'Yquem - a fairly dark amber colour, with a quite intense sweet nose
of botrytis, very long and full in the mouth to the point of being unctuous -
excellent wine.[terrine of duck foie gras with prune confit and brioche toast]"

This flight was served with a remarkable (_all_ of the courses were, really)
dish - Cinnamon stewed confit of duck in a cabbage wrap with honey-thyme
toasted turnips.

The next course was problematic for the organiser, being served with a red
wine. It was Saltspring Island lamb rack (a local lamb with the same sort of
reputation here as pre-sale lamb has in Brittany), served on a barley risotto
with hamhock bits, toasted figs and Pinot Noir infused lamb stock..
It was served with a Drouhin 1989 Chambolle Musigny 1re Cru 'Les Amoreuses',
which (eventually) showed some nice cherries and mushrooms on the nose, and a
maturity on palate ending with a touch of acidity that may have been the
sauternes - it was very difficult to go back to a red wine after ten Yquems!

Finally, the big guns. By this I mean the arguably the best wines from each of
three decades, the 60s, 70s, and 80s.

-- 1983 - Rather undeveloped with a deep but not too complex nose, showing the
usual caramel honey and coconut elements, a massive wine, thick on the palate,
and very balanced and long. I would not care to predict when this wine will be
at peak, given that it seems hardly to have moved in its development at this
point.

-- 1975 - Very interesting spicy melon nose, this one was well developed with
good acidity and length, spice, some oak, and the usual fruit elements in the
nose, and a wonderful smoothness.

-- 1967 - For me, the best wine of the evening. Fortunately kept in one cellar
from purchase (unlike the 70, which Albert had purchased from less reliable
origins), it was fairly dark, showed honey, vanilla, and a hint of Earl Grey
tea in the nose which to me evidenced its maturity. It was so well balanced
that at first it seemed lighter in body than the other wines, but it was in
fact very full, - a wonderful wine showing what an Yquem can be at its peak.

These wines were served with a warm savoury (thyme) apricot tart with toasted
walnuts and Fourme d'Ambert cheese. Though there was a light dessert after this
course, for me this was the pinnacle, from both the wine and food points of
view.

Someone actually cancelled out on this event late in the day. A member of the
group at my table opined that there were unavoidable circumstances that might
come up, funerals and such. I replied that the only funeral that would keep me
away from an event like this would be mine.

Truly an unforgettable experience, and my thanks goes out to Albert Givton for
sharing these wines with us. I have never participated in an event in which the
wines scored so high, nor showed such uniformly high quality.
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Re: Yquem 1967 - 1990

by Jenise » Thu Nov 08, 2018 4:37 pm

Just spectacular, Bill. I can only dream. Reminds me, though, of reading an article in the Spectator circa 1990-something which featured various Sauternes paired with real food (as you and I would define it) by Wolfgang Puck. The tasters present were all wine glitterati and the event was held at Spago, of course. It spurred me to buy my first Sauternes and actually replicate some of the dishes he prepared of which one especially amazing course stands out: lobster with green lentils du puy. I remember doing an apricot-stuffed capon as well, but I believe that was my own creation and not one of Wolfie's.

Btw, I'm about to gin up some notes about a tasting of eight sweet Bordeauxs (Sauternes and various satellites) I participated in at a friend's last night. The hosts were very inexperienced with this kind of wine, and she commented on the fact that she loves/craves desserts but has never liked sweet wines. That caused me to contrast you as "a friend who conversely despises all desserts but truly appreciates sweet wines".
My wine shopping and I have never had a problem. Just a perpetual race between the bankruptcy court and Hell.--Rogov

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